Originally published Oct 21, 2015 written by Emily van Lidth de Jeude
Here we are, waking up to a new red dawn. Apparently our prime minister designate is a rockstar. Now let me tell you about crawling through the mud in the woods. Priorities.
A couple of weeks ago, one of the kids I work with climbed up onto a leaning tree. It was a soft green moss- and licorice fern-covered maple, reaching out between great black crystal-like crags of old burnt cedars. He climbed up and back down three times, and when he satisfied his skill-building needs, he just sat up there for a while. That seat in itself was pretty amazing, but from where he sat, there was something far better. “Hey guys! I see a swamp!” He shouted. Some of the other kids looked up from their boat racing and bridge building, and one declared “no more swamps”. She was the one wearing running shoes. But I followed his gaze, and within a minute or so, he was down from the tree, and everyone had joined the quest for the swamp.
Just around a cedar shell we found what looked like the beginnings of a house – raw posts sunk deep into a grassy clearing just beside the creek, a shovel, some roofing, and a creeping carpet of moss. Our leader ducked under some salmonberry bushes, crossed the creek, and crawled through the mud to a group of trees and logs, beyond. “Holy!” He shouted! “It’s a cave! I found a cave with a river in it, and a waterfall, too!” I struggled through under the salmonberries while some of the older teens picked their way around to the other side, where we found the small creek streaming into a loamy under-tree cavern, and winding its way between small sand bars, about two meters below our feet.
I checked the time, and felt pressured to hurry them back to the school for lunch. But I squatted down and checked out the soft sand under the tree, instead. As time marched on, I became worried about their parents’ reactions if we arrived late, and encouraged them to leave. But they were busy. Some kids climbed into the cave; some harvested licorice fern, and one sang a song before accidentally slipping between some roots and nearly into the deepest part of the ‘cavern’. As his friends helped him out of the tight space, I worried about the kids injuring themselves. But I waited quietly. These kids helped me to discover new delights in an area I’ve visited far more often than they have, and I was grateful for their perspective.
It’s so easy to become wrapped up in our adult lives, and to feel the urgent present moment more important than the building of our future. It’s so easy to find ourselves more important than the discoveries of children crawling through the mud. Obviously we understand so much more than they do. But then again, somehow we don’t.
Here we are, waking up to a new red dawn, and on Monday I watched a few of my teenaged friends posting “voting in the only way I can” updates to social media, and witnessed the infectious joy as the mock school polls managed to overthrow the conservatives. The IPS outcome was apparently (in this order) Liberal, Green, Marijuana, Conservative, NDP, and Marxist-Leninist. What would happen if we placed more value in the thoughts and intentions of our youth? What would happen if we listened to their hopes and fears with the same sincerity they afford to ours, as they’re listening to our grave adult conversations from neighbouring rooms, and wondering if their world will fall apart?
The stream that flows so perfectly into the waterfall of an amazing under-tree cavern does not care which party won the election. The great community of plants and fungi and animals that depend upon the stream do not know that over at the community school we put X’s on bits of converted tree pulp to determine their future. But our children know. They know that we are their voices and that our every move will determine their future. The freedom to explore and to build a deep connection with and understanding of our environment is part of the way we keep our future viable. Our children know this.
Our children are not just our future, but the future of humanity, and when we value their contributions we give them the agency to form brave opinions. We give them the wherewithal to act on those opinions, instead of being swallowed up in the present moment fears that occupy us in our busy adult lives. Here we are, waking up to a new red dawn, and our work has just begun. Let’s climb through the mud and swamps to find hidden treasures. I challenge all of us to reach into the unknown and to hold our new government to task for the things that matter to our children.
– Emily van Lidth de Jeude